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Big dogs in the global window are at the heart of Dublin's Silicon Docks


From left, Viddyad chief technology officer Eamonn Kennedy, investor Sean O’Sullivan, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, Noel Ruane of Polaris Venture Partners, and Minister of State for Small Business John Perry, at Dogpatch Labs in Dublin

From left, Viddyad chief technology officer Eamonn Kennedy, investor Sean O’Sullivan, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, Noel Ruane of Polaris Venture Partners, and Minister of State for Small Business John Perry, at Dogpatch Labs in Dublin

From left, Viddyad chief technology officer Eamonn Kennedy, investor Sean O’Sullivan, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, Noel Ruane of Polaris Venture Partners, and Minister of State for Small Business John Perry, at Dogpatch Labs in Dublin

YOU may not have heard of Dogpatch Labs – but it's emerging as the tech start-up hub at the heart of Dublin's Silicon Docks.

If an Irish tech firm – or an international one with a significant Dublin operation – is going to be the next billion-euro success, then it's a near certainty that it will have passed through its doors.

It's where you'll find the hottest, fastest-growing, early stage Irish companies and an increasing number of international ones that you may not have heard of, yet.

One to have recently passed through its doors is US website and online store platform Squarespace, which raised €29m in New York just last week.

The company, which employs 40 people here, recently graduated from a new IDA initiative at the Labs, and is eyeing expansion that will see the creation of up to 60 new jobs here over the coming months.

Instagram, the photo and video sharing firm that Facebook bought for $19bn (€13.7bn) is the best-known business to have graduated from Dogpatch's San Francisco hub, where the concept was established in 2009 by €2.5bn US venture capital heavyweight Polaris Ventures.

Several Irish start-ups – Intercom, Logentries and Boxever – also share the honour of being recent alumni, having raised €28.5m between them in the past year, as we recently revealed.

Since being established in Dublin in 2012, 32 companies have been residents or alumni of the Labs. The first 29 of them have raised €58m and in the next few months that number will exceed €72m. By the end of this year these businesses are expected to employ more than 400 people and create another 400 new jobs by the end of next year.

They join an ever-expanding international alumni network of many hundreds of entrepreneurs and start-ups that have passed through the US Labs.

Underpinning the expansion here to some extent was an investment of €37m that Polaris received from the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2010.

This was invested in Irish and foreign prospects, according to the firm's Dublin-based partner Noel Ruane, but it appears to be on course to match that with Irish investments since it has invested €29m in tech firms founded here since the beginning of 2013.

"Some of those we've announced, some we haven't," Mr Ruane says. Those announced include Boxever, Logentries, BalconyTV and Corkman James Whelton's CoderDojo and its partners HelloWorld Foundation.

The qualifying criteria to become a Labs-based company are quite tough, he adds. "In the same way as we appraise investments, we look at the founders, their team, their background, the market opportunity, the scalability and their business model.

"Ideally we're looking for firms that can build a global company, who might achieve a market value of at least €180m. We're very selective in terms of who we pick and who we want to work with," Mr Ruane says.

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There are typically between 12 and 15 companies based at Dogpatch at any one time, but the benefits are very significant.

"Our aim was to bring like-minded people who are similarly driven into a co-working space that builds, supports and catalyses a community. We've seen that in our Labs in San Francisco, Boston and New York, and we're seeing it in Dublin too," Mr Ruane says.

"We specifically look for the brightest and the best founding teams and when they're in one room together, they are usually about two degrees of separation or less away from a person they might need to meet or recruit who might be in marketing, user experience, design, or have some other skills they need.

"If you look at the teams there and the Labs' alumni, you'll find that we have tentacles that extend internationally, to all the tech companies that have come to Ireland and to all the universities. If we don't know someone in a certain company, we know someone who does," Mr Ruane affirms.

Recognising these advantages, the IDA's emerging business division, headed up by Barry O'Dowd, has recently linked up with Dogpatch, taking a section of the Labs as a "landing space" that allows fast-growing firms like Squarespace to test the waters, either for functions based in Dublin or for expanding into Europe from the US, from a ready-made and relatively inexpensive fully-serviced location.

The building itself is tucked away beside a car park off Barrow Street, next door to Google's Silicon Docks, and fittingly enough, there's a small kennel just past the reception desk, and we're greeted by a grey Scottish Terrier when we visit.

Open plan and airy, with lots of potted plants, meeting rooms, a pool table, mini cafeteria and a chillout space, it's a little more functional and not quite as cool and brightly coloured as the more hip offices of the internet giant next door.

In the IDA's landing space section we meet Emma Morris, the international partnership director of 247 Traffic, a Tel Aviv and Cyprus-based online trading platform company that launched four years ago. It is marketing its services to customers all over Europe from Dublin and hopes to recruit up to 20 people soon.

At another desk is Gianni Matera, an entrepreneur who has just arrived from Milan. The owner of two digital advertising and content businesses based in Italy, he made the decision to relocate here some time ago and is working on an idea for an innovative web and mobile payment app.

Once his idea is more developed he plans to apply to join a financial services technology accelerator programme here. He'll be in good company as Hedgeguard, a financial portfolio management software firm from France, has also taken a number of desks here.

Nearby is Michael Corbett, a user interface developer with Sohalo, which occupies four desks. An online customer loyalty and marketing platform based in California, it counts British Airways among its customers and was founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur Michael Geraghty.

Also occupying several desks is Logentries co-founder Trevor Parsons and two of his colleagues. His Dublin-based development team have been here for two years but are about to move to a new office.

"There are like-minded companies and people here and we've found that one of the other companies here might be dealing with a problem that you're also working on. There's great camaraderie among everyone here and there's a great mix of skills too.

"Being here has boosted our confidence and I think that in turn has helped us raise money recently. The fact that companies here are vetted by Polaris gives you a degree of recognition as well," he says.

Online video ad creation firm Viddyad's Dublin staff are also based here. "Every tech company knows how significant Polaris are and Noel is very well connected. The location is perfect as well. Google is next door and Facebook and the other big tech firms are all nearby," agrees founder Grainne Barron, speaking from San Francisco, where she is now based.

This position that the labs occupy as a key hub of the people, jobs and skills ecosystem supports the rapid pace of growth of the likes of Squarespace in much the same way as it does for Viddyad, O'Dowd emphasises.

Two new Squarespace recruits were hired as a result of referrals from other people working there, while Dublin manager Kim Cahill herself previously worked for Microsoft here and a senior colleague managed several teams at Google, giving some idea of how people can migrate through the ecosystem in the course of their careers.

"Speed to market is key for such companies. They often need to put together a multi-skilled, multi-lingual team quickly and efficiently. Our landing pad is a great model in terms of satisfying these needs," says O'Dowd, whose division is in the process of expanding from 12 to 16 people as the agency seeks to strengthen its resources.

Working together in this way should continue to bear fruit for the Dogpatch and the IDA – as well as the wider economy – concludes Ruane, who suggests it may only be a matter of time before Dogpatch Labs itself also expands.

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